Leigh Allison Wilson
I took to burying my allowance in our back yard. This was the summer of
1974, when there wasn't enough money in the state of Tennessee to go
around. Just to show you, my dad started taking a bag lunch to work
instead of dropping by the Pig and Chick. My bank was a metal chocolate
box stashed behind a stump in the back yard, three inches down and
covered with leaves.
A nickel here, a nickel there—it didn't add up to much. I
kept a red pencil nub and some paper in there. I'd dig up the box, add
a nickel, count the money, and then record the number on paper,
worrying the bit of pencil between my teeth. I had no idea what I was
saving for, didn't want anything, but it seemed imperative that the
So I moved into stealing. My dad, okay, he looked like a ghost those
days, took on a second job, and I put his wallet off limits. My mother
was easy pickings, endless loose change at the bottom of her purse. Dad
adored her, even gave her a JC Penney easy chair though he was eating
pbj's morning, noon and night. I let her keep the pennies except later
I thought fuck it, and took those, too.
In church it turned out nobody guarded the collection after the deacons
dumped it in the choir room. So I'd visit the bathroom, then grab a
fistful on the way back to the pew where my family sat. That money was
so sticky I'd wash it before it went into the bank box.
At the public pool mothers put their purses in a perfect line on a
ledge of concrete, as if orderliness could protect them. Bang-bang down
the row I could net three dollars in change just slouching by out of
sight. One day, trolling for coins at the bottom of the wading pool, I
yanked up a drowning toddler like a turnip. The mother, glad and
guilty, wanted to give me some money, but I'd already taken all the
change from her purse. She borrowed a dollar from the lifeguard.
My bank box filled up. I had to dig a deeper hole and put another candy
box in there. And another. By the end of the summer I had two hundred
The day before school started my dad said, "Buddy, I'd like to speak to
you man to man." I said okay, since what else could I say? He looked
terrible. I mean bad. Even his hair had no color any more.
I'll save you the suspense. He started telling me about the house
payment, and the car payment, and the cost of groceries going up week
after week, and what it would take to get my oldest sister the band
uniform, which was what she had her heart set on. He gave me the list
in a drone as toneless as a cash register. It was killing him, this
list of money going out. He got out a notebook to lay it all out for me.
Soon he had a whole page filled with figures, fingers scrabbling to get
it all down. And then I saw the red pencil. It was nothing but a nub
and had tooth marks on it, just like mine. It was blunt from tracing
all those numbers, just like mine. I put my head in close to see
better: it was mine. That's what this was about. He'd found my bank.
"I'm sorry about this, Buddy," he said, "but there's no other way to
make this work." He took the pencil nub and wrote, I owe Buddy Bodell
200 dollars that I stole on September 4, 1974. His face was a white
fist of ignominy, and it was a mirror of my own—except I had
barely begun my entry into the terrible balance sheet of duty and
dereliction that this world can be.
That was that. I stopped stealing. I took a job at the Pig and Chick
and brought home leftover BBQ on Wednesday nights. I quit taking an
allowance, burned the IOU. Every once in a while I had a swig of beer
from my dad's bottle.
From then on I used pens and not pencils, and I never buried another
thing until the day he died.
Leigh Allison Wilson is the author of two books of stories, FROM THE BOTTOM UP and WIND. She lives
in New York.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Jason Liebig.
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